Many of us have likely seen photos of the Aral Sea, and the rusted Soviet-era ships, sitting in the desert with no water in sight. The Aral Sea is now just 10% of its former volume, shrinking down from what was once the fourth-largest body of inland water in the world, after what writer Jeff Fernside calls “one of the worst human-caused environmental catastrophes”.
Jeff traveled to the region as a Peace Corps volunteer. Afterward, he turned his experiences into an essay collection, Ships in the Desert, where Jeff writes about the families he met, his thoughts on missionaries, and his visit to the Aral Sea, where he saw “a fleet of rusting Soviet fishing ships, hammer and sickle still clearly discernible on many, sitting bolt upright in desert sands as if plowing through ocean waves.”
Jeff Fearnside is the author of the short-story collection Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air (Stephen F Austin State University Press: 2006), which won the 2005 SFWP Awards Program. He is also the author of the chapbook A Husband and Wife Are One Satan (Orison Books, 2021), winner of the Orison Chapbook Prize. His work has appeared in literary journals and anthologies such as The Paris Review, Los Angeles Review, Story, and many others.
In this interview, Jeff and I talk about what inspired his essays, including what he saw in the barren Aral Sea.